Because of the division it's in and the hole it dug with a terrible middle part of the season, the Wild will have a difficult opponent in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. (Minnesota hasn't clinched a berth yet, but Hockey Reference gives the Wild a 100 percent chance of making it based on projections).
Get past that round and the Wild could make a run; indeed, Hockey Reference also gives the Wild the second-best chance in the entire conference of winning the Stanley Cup title. Let's take a look at the four opponents the Wild could face in the first round, in order of most preferable to least preferable:
• Nashville: If the playoffs started today, this is the team the Wild (as the top wild card vs. the Predators as the lesser of the two division winners) would face. And that's not a bad thing. These teams have played four entertaining games, with the Wild holding a 2-1-1 edge in the season series (including a perfect 2-0 since the Devan Dubnyk trade).
This series would have plenty of flow to it, which is good for the Wild. Nashville also has cooled off considerably since a scorching start. The Predators are just 6-9-2 in their past 17 games — trending downward while the Wild is trending upward.
• St. Louis: If the Wild jumps into the top three in the Central Division, or if St. Louis moves past Nashville to win the division title while the Wild stays a wild card, this could be the matchup. Minnesota has had success against the Blues, going 2-0-1 so far (with one game left in the regular-season finale).
Those two victories have come in the past three weeks, and they were by a combined 9-4 score.
• Chicago: In the same boat as St. Louis, where a move past Nashville or the Wild moving into the top three in the division could create a first-round matchup. But Chicago is the only team in the West that has a better chance than the Wild of winning the Cup, according to Hockey Reference.
The Blackhawks also have a psychological edge, having knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. The Wild is just 1-3 against the Blackhawks this season, though all three losses came during the midseason swoon, while the victory came with Dubnyk in February.
• Anaheim: This is the matchup nobody wants. Not only does it mean late games (bad for viewing), it also means a tough opponent for the Wild. Minnesota is 0-3 against the Ducks this year, including a 2-1 loss at the X a few weeks back.
The good news is this will only be the matchup if the Wild slides back to the second wild card spot while Anaheim remains No. 1 or if the Wild stays in the first wild card spot while Anaheim finishes with fewer points than the Central winner. Neither scenario seems likely right now.